As a parent, you know it’s important to involve your children in game playing. (Same goes for you aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends — we love you to bits!) You know the positive effects that game-playing can have on young minds. You even have some games on the shelf, both classic and gamer-y, that are age-appropriate. But when it comes down to it, it can be really hard to give over a hobby you have been enjoying with other adults and feel like you are being slowed down or having to play games that are simple and/or boring. Here are some tips for how to bridge that gap between adult hobby and family fun.
Make time when everyone is well-rested.
After breakfast or lunch instead of after dinner might work better, especially if preschoolers are involved. By eliminating hunger and tiredness, you are less likely to have frustration and whining if your child is having trouble learning the rules or not winning.
Provide a snack.
Kids like to eat small amounts throughout the day rather than three big meals. Having something (not wet or greasy!) to nibble while playing can sooth a lot of troubled waters. Air popped popcorn with a little butter and salt is our favorite gaming snack! But beware of getting in the bad habit of eating every time you sit down to play.
Give the kids a choice.
You probably have the perfect game and scenario in mind, but your kids may feel more engaged if you let them choose. Perhaps today is not the day to teach them Agricola, but you can give them a choice of two or three games that are age-appropriate and let them pick the one they are most interested in. Take this opportunity to share what else you have on the shelf that they want to learn. Some games will probably have to wait, but if your kid is really interested, you would be surprised what a young one can handle in a game. For example, we have played Settlers of Catan with a 7-year-old all the way through. He’s now 8 and Bohnanza has been one of his favorite games for a year or two running.
Emphasize playing over winning.
This is hard, we know. Depending on your kids’ personalities and where they are developmentally, some will deal better with this than others. Talk about sportsmanship, the value of spending time with family, and strategies for possibly winning next time. Sometimes, for kids who take losing hard, stopping before the end of the game and/or starting a new game (even the same one) right away helps channel that intense emotion. Coping with losing is a very hard thing to learn, but it is also an important social skill.
Cooperative vs. competitive games.
One way to deal with hard losers is to stick with cooperative games. Our 8-year-old son has told us, in no uncertain terms, that he prefers cooperative games — or at least games that are not “stressful” (his word). When Matt brought home Escape! The Curse of the Temple from Tabletop Day earlier this year, we figured out that there was a such thing as a stressful cooperative game (no, he has not played Pandemic yet). By contrast, we know other kids who love nothing more than to wade into the thick of things and massacre their opponents pieces (such as in Survive: Escape from Atlantis). It takes all types.
When in doubt, keep it short.
The kids are probably only up for one to two games max in a sitting, no matter what they think. Kids are wiggly, even those who are serious or older, and prolonged sitting leads to whining, which can cast the gaming experience in a negative light. After you finish a game or two, even if they’re clamoring for more, stretch your arms and suggest a bike ride or a game of basketball outside. Not all games are played at the table!
Maybe your child is not ready to play tabletop games or maybe you need to look around for a new infusion of games that are either more interesting to them or more age-appropriate. Talk to your child. They probably know more about what a kid likes than you do.
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